The Song of Igor's Campaign, An Epic of the Twelfth Century
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The Song of Igor’s Campaign is the most imaginative, celebrated, and studied work of early Russian literature.
A chivalric expedition is undertaken in the late 12th century by a minor prince in the land of Rus’ to defeat, against overwhelming odds, a powerful alliance in a neighboring territory. The anonymous poet who chronicled this adventure packed unprecedented metaphorical agility, keenness of observation, and fascinating imagery into the lean and powerful tale of the doomed campaign. Discovered in the late 18th century and only narrowly distributed, the original manuscript was destroyed in a fire, leading to endless debate about the provenance and authenticity of the extant versions. It also served as the basis of Borodin’s opera Prince Igor. Translated by Vladimir Nabokov, the verses that constitute The Song of Igor’s Campaign are presented in their original rhyme and meter, and Nabokov’s extensive annotations provide illuminations on all the aspects of the text.
entoil him by means of a fair maiden, 825 neither the falconet, nor the fair maiden, shall we have, while the birds will start to beat us 830 in the Kuman field.” Igor’s return Said Boyan, song-maker of the times of old, [of the campaigns] of the kogans —Svyatoslav, Yaroslav, Oleg: 835 “Hard as it is for the head to be without shoulders bad it is for the body to be without head,” —for the Russian land 840 to be
1183, without Igor’s participation. Our bard exaggerates Svyatoslav’s greatness and might. 8. Igor (who was wounded in the arm) and the three other princes were captured by four different Kuman chieftains, whose names are hopelessly Russianized by the chronicler: Chilbuk took Igor; Roman son of Kza took Vsevolod; Kopti took Vladimir; and Eldechyuk took Svyatoslav. 9. The accents are there merely to indicate the correct stress to the non-Russian reader. They are not shown in Russian. The Russian
author of the famous Russian Tales, while in the process of fabricating pretty feminine names hit upon “Bayana” (derived from obayanie, fascination, charm) for one of his princesses. 17. André Mazon, of the Collège de France, has attempted to turn the tables on time and prove that it is The Song that is an imitation of the Zadonshchina. His study (Le Slovo d’Igor, Paris, 1940, pp. 5-179), while containing many interesting juxtapositions, is fatally vitiated by his total incapacity of artistic
stanza XIII: In these far climes it was my lot To meet the wondrous Michael Scott, A wizard of such dreaded fame That when in Salamanca’s cave Him listed his magic wand to wave The bells would ring in Notre Dame. 676-677 Ni hïtru, ni gorazdu, ni ptitsyu gorazdu (neither the guileful, nor the skillful, nor the bird skillful). I follow Magnus (1915, p. 19 and p. 59) in amending the second line to ni ptitsyu, ni gudtsyu. 679 Our bard echoes Boyan with a prophecy of his own: Russia, too,
after a military career). This composition has reached us in half a dozen transcripts, none of them good, of which the main ones are entitled: 1. Zadonshchina [the Beyond-the-Don Campaign] of the Great Prince Dmitri son of Ivan and his cousin Vladimir son of Andrey, being a manuscript of 1470, discovered in the St. Cyril monastery of Belozersk, and first published in 1859. 2. Skazaniye [the Narrative, or Tale] by Sofon the Ryazanian, in praise of the princes Dmitri and Vladimir, a manuscript of